Rabbi Aaron Mordechai Ashinsky (1867-1954) was born in Rojgrod, Poland. He was a precocious child, and his parents, Nachman and Hannah Ashinsky, called him Alterel, or “Little Old One.” When Ashinsky was 12, his first teacher, Rabbi Idel Drob, made arrangements for him to study at a nearby yeshiva. In 1887, Ashinsky earned his ordination, married his teacher’s daughter Pearl Drob, and immigrated to America.
Rabbi and Mrs. Ashinsky spent time in Syracuse, Detroit and Montreal before arriving in Pittsburgh in 1901. Aside from sojourns to Brooklyn in 1922 and Detroit in 1926, they spent the rest of their lives in Pittsburgh. He initially led Beth Hamedrash Hagodol and later assumed responsibilities at Beth Jacob, Shaare Zedeck, Kether Torah, Adath Jeshurun and Chofetz Chaim. He was known as the Dean of the Orthodox Rabbinate.
His years in Pittsburgh came at a crucial time for the Jewish community. The Jewish population of the city quadrupled between 1900 and 1920, as thousands of Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants arrived from Eastern Europe and the Russian Empire. To provide for the many needs of these families and to help them adjust to life in America, Ashinsky helped found a series of social services agencies, including the Jewish Home for the Aged, the Hebrew Institute, Montefiore Hospital and the Jewish Home for Babies and Children.
An ardent religious Zionist, Ashinsky helped organize the local Young People’s Zionist League, as well as its national parent group, the Mizrachi Zionist Organization.
“He was our last connecting link between the Jewish Old World and the New World,” Dr. Asher Isaacs wrote in the American Jewish Outlook when Rabbi Ashinsky died. “For him and a few of his generation fell the responsibility of bringing over the values of the one and incorporating them into the new environment. Few men succeeded as well.”
Rabbi Aaron and Pearl Ashinsky had seven children.